Christmas Newletter 2011 

6 Berne Avenue
Staffordshire ST5 2QJ

14th December 2011

To all our friends and family

It's the end of November and vigorous winds are blowing. But they are from the south, so it's incredibly mild, with crocus shoots already appearing and we can catch up a bit and put in late bulbs. Nevertheless Christmas is approaching with the welcome opportunity to greet our family and friends. We do hope that you have a lovely Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

2011 has been memorable year for getting tickets. First for the football when, thanks to the help of friends, particularly Gurnos Jones, the internet and some queuing, nine of the family met up at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final. And wonderfully Stoke won 5-0 - what a day! The cup final itself was a bit of an anticlimax - the wrong team won but again it was nice meeting up with three of the family and Gurnos again.

The second was the Wagner opera festival at Bayreuth. We have been applying for tickets for ten years without success but this year we were lucky. We had a lovely motor trip visiting Mike and family in Paris, the Vosges and, on the way home, having a meal with Heli and Jürgen Troe in Göttingen as well as visiting one of the Dutch Friesian islands. Bayreuth, where we attended both Tristan and Isolde and Tannhauser, was a wonderful experience altogether - however Tannhauser was one of the worst opera productions we have ever attended - they even ruined the enjoyment of the renowned overture. It was roundly booed at the end and received very poor reviews . Ironically it is the very bad productions that stay forever in one's memory!

Other opera trips were twice to Llandudno for the mini WNO seasons there and the usual week in Buxton where we managed to cram in several book talks and concerts as well as the eight operas! There were also excursions with friends to see Opera North productions and also to the RNCM and to Munich.

We took advantage of a trip to Northern Ireland to boat there for a few days before the resumption of the inquest on my sister and brother-in-law. While it took nearly two years to complete the inquiry, the coroner handled to matter in a most sensitive way with every consideration for the family - it was a most impressive occasion with, for once, the State showing its best side. The boat then provided the ideal vehicle to take my nephews and nieces on an excursion to the ruined abbey and round tower at Devenish, which they had visited often in their youth with their parents. We all (ages from 55 to 76) played hide and seek in the warm September sunshine.

We also ventured south where Patricia re-visited old haunts on a trip to Worthing where her grandparents lived. We visited Roman remains at Lullingstone, Fishbourne and Bignor as well as enjoying a long walk on the South Downs. We travelled home via Reading to see Kath Glover, who taught me still more about radioactivity proportional counters, in a lesson which had begun with her some sixty years before at Harwell.

Perhaps the most unusual visit was to Albania where we went on an Andante archaeological tour. A cheerful group of about twenty led by an excellent guide visited sites in Tirana, Appolonia, Butrint, Gjirocastra, Byllis, Berat, Durres and Kruja. It is a remarkable country which seems to have been at the fag end of everything for at least four thousand years. Nowhere else has given me the impression of history still actively in progress.

Our three boys and their wives are still in good form. Michael seems to make a weekly commute to Moscow to negotiate Total's share of the costs, work and profits of extracting oil and gas from under the deep Barents Sea, or to Kazakstan to extract gas and oil from the more technically difficult fields under the shallow Caspian Sea, or to Azerbajan where Total has further interests. Stephen travels regularly to the Far East and India; the new LED light market seems to be booming for their incredibly reflective aluminium. And Paul is progressing in his career with a large insurance company.

Of the grandchildren: Fiona is gainfully employed with the defence science and technology laboratory while her partner, Adam, is working through his actuarial qualifications with a national accounting firm in Bristol. Felicity, William and James are at University. We had a meal with Felicity when she was helping train sniffer dogs in Chester as part of her Animal Behaviour course at Bristol; Will has redeemed himself with Business Studies at Edinburgh but seems to be a full time juggler and an active participant in Pyroceltica. James is enjoying his engineering projects at Loughborough. The other three, Charlie, Sarah and Timmy are still at school. Charlie is at Malvern; Sarah appears to have had a wonderful year abroad in Canada before resuming her studies in Düsseldorf, and Timmy seems to be doing well at golf and football as well as school. The only downside is that we see very little of them.

At home we garden and go for regular tramps in the Peak District, Shropshire or more locally. We're wrestling with our web site at the moment since, although we get much fun out of developing it, it is becoming an ever increasing job - and indeed a lifetime's work in several senses! Happy memories were revived when we put up the pictures of our honeymoon (1958) and our time in the States (1959 - 61) - as can be seen there, we were indeed very young.

But even though considerably older, we still seem to learn the hard way - for example the travesty of the "loyal" customer. We discovered that, because we simply assumed that we would get a reasonable rate and renewed our annual premiums for car and home insurance without question, we were being overcharged by several hundred pounds per annum in each case. And energy costs are similar. The general business model seems to be to make one's profits on those who are lazy, thick or elderly, all categories into which we fit admirably. So don't you get caught -as always - Caveat Emptor!

Our insurance wake up came as a result of buying a new car just before last Christmas. It was a bit of a surprise - I forgot to take something to read when I took the old one in for a repair, looked around and came back with a new car! We are pleased with it and had a grand trip to Austria in January to ski. We are booked to go again, but this time with Christopher and Gwenda which should be fun. We always stay at the Wurmkogel in Hochgurgl where we know the family and the staff and always receive a warm welcome.

We expect to be here at home over Christmas and will, as usual we hope, use the period to walk a lot and so improve our fitness and endurance for skiing. We shall also watch some opera videos, and read through all the cards and messages that you all so kindly send. We shall think of you and hope you are comfortably enjoying yourselves  with your families.

With much love from us both.

Patricia and Peter

 P.S. One thing not mentioned in the posted letter: we finally finished our work this year with the publication of a book on Remote Sensing. It really is the end and it is astonishing how quickly it is all receding into the past.